'Apocalypto' now at b.o.

Gibson epic surprises with $14.2 mil, No. 1 bow

The wild card "Apocalypto" beat out the industry heavyweights during the weekend at the North American boxoffice, proving that novelty could be the biggest attraction for audiences this holiday season. The ultra-violent, R-rated film from director Mel Gibson and Buena Vista Pictures prevailed over the politically themed Leonardo DiCaprio starrer "Blood Diamond," from Warner Bros. Pictures, and director Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy "The Holiday," from Sony Pictures.

"Apocalypto" grossed an estimated $14.2 million, while "Holiday" came in a close second with an estimated $13.5 million. "Diamond" was a distant fifth with a weak $8.5 million opening as not even DiCaprio could overcome the curiosity factor surrounding Gibson's take on the downfall of the Mayan civilization.

Warners' other new wide release, the PG-rated "Unaccompanied Minors," also got off to a slow start, bowing at 2,775 theaters to an estimated $6.2 million.

Despite "Apocalypto's" surprise No. 1 finish, the new releases fell short of last year's grosses at this time, when Buena Vista's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," opened to a staggering $65.5 million. The top 12 films for this frame were down a steep 25% compared with last year.

Warners' best news of the weekend was the strong hold of its CG-animated juggernaut "Happy Feet." From director George Miller, it fell an impressive 28% in its fourth weekend in release, good for third place overall. The dancing penguin movie has grossed close to $140 million.

Sony's "Casino Royale" also held strong in its fourth weekend, losing 42% of the previous weekend's business to earn an additional $8.8 million and finish in fourth place. The latest Bond pic is nearing $130 million in domestic grosses.

New Line Cinema's "The Nativity Story" held well in its sophomore session, with a 29% drop. But with a weak $7.8 million bow, the film required a decent hold to fend off talk that it is a bust overall. Still, with only an estimated $15.8 million after 10 days in release, that label might just stick.

Flop is an accurate title for Fox Atomic's debut release "Turistas." In its second weekend, the R-rated horror film dropped a steep 63% and earned an additional $1.3 million. After 10 days in release, the film has grossed an estimated $5.9 million.

Gibson's anti-Semitic rant during the summer after he was stopped for driving under the influence in Malibu didn't seem to bother moviegoers, and "Apocalypto's" first-place finish suggests that arresting filmmaking trumps a filmmaker's personal views. The audience breakdown also came as a surprise to industry observers, with "Apocalypto" attracting a 60%-40% ratio of men to women, with women over 30 liking the movie the most. Overall positive reviews also helped the film dominate. According to online review compiler RottenTomatoes.com, the movie earned 65% positive marks.

"I'm very pleased with the film's performance," Buena Vista distribution president Chuck Viane said. "To jump out during the matinees Friday and know that you are going to be competitive is a good thing. This film has got to end up being the water cooler film of the weekend. Whether you like it or hate, you want to talk about it."

Warners is not yet ready to write off the performance of "Diamond." Although the film — which reportedly cost $100 million to make — clearly disappointed in its opening weekend, the studio is hopeful it will make a comeback over the upcoming holiday frames. In 1,910 theaters, the R-rated drama generated $4,458 per theater.

"The opening was slightly less then what we had hoped for," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "We had excellent exit polls, and I'm pleased with the per-screen average. Our plan was to open limited and build the audience into the holiday."

"Diamond" targeted the same adult audience as "Apocalypto," and moviegoers clearly chose the Gibson film over the Edward Zwick-directed, African-set drama centering on conflict diamonds. Warners originally had "Diamond" set for release Dec. 15 but made a calculated decision to go head-to-head with "Apocalypto" in an effort to get a jump on the holiday season.

Sony also is hopeful about "Holiday." The PG-13 film, starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black, drew primarily women over 25. "We knew if we opened in the teens, we would certainly have a very solid multiple and it would play well through the holiday," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

Bruer said that Meyers' last film, 2003's "Something's Gotta Give," earned eight times its opening gross. If that formula remains true for "Holiday," the romantic comedy should end its run with more than $100 million. However, "Something's" reviews were significantly more enthusiastic than those for "Holiday," which could mean a greater uphill climb for the director's latest effort.

Warners also is counting on increased free time among moviegoers for its second new release of the weekend, the Village Roadshow co-production "Minors," from director Paul Feig. The film, based on a segment from National Public Radio's "This American Life," generated $2,236 per theater.

"We're pleased with the performance," Fellman said. "We experienced a 77% increase from Friday to Saturday, the reaction to the movie was excellent, and as schools get out, we'll enjoy the holiday."

In limited release, ThinkFilm bowed "Off the Black" in Los Angeles and New York; the R-rated drama starring Nick Nolte and Sally Kirkland opened to $8,000. The indie distributor plans to expand it this weekend to San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and Minneapolis.

Fox Searchlight expanded "The History Boys" to 50 screens for its third weekend in release. The film, based on the acclaimed British play, grossed $211,000 for a per-screen average of $4,220, increasing its cume to $509,641. Searchlight intends to expand to nine more cities this weekend, with plans to be in 150 theaters by Christmas.

For the week ending Dec. 7, total boxoffice was $121.2 million, up slightly compared with the $111.5 million collected during the comparable week last year. Year-to-date, domestic boxoffice is $8.51 billion, up nearly 6% over 2005's $8.04 billion. Admissions continue to run more than 3% higher.
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